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Baraka Bouts raises money for school in Uganda

| Thursday, November 15, 2018

With the championship round to take place Thursday night, the women of Baraka Bouts are preparing for the end of the 2018 season.

Notre Dame Women’s Boxing Club, more commonly known as Baraka Bouts, is a group that serves as an athletic team, social club and charity organization. In many ways, it is “uniquely Notre Dame,” senior Jessica Zlaket, one of the team’s 10 captains, said.

“Overall, it touches fitness, community and charity all in one,” Zlaket said. “As a Notre Dame student, I think a lot of us have those three parts of our personality very ingrained because of sports, faith and school. And all of that comes in to boxing in so many ways.”

Anna Mason | The Observer
Senior Nicole Waddick fights senior Molly LaFave in a Baraka Bouts match. Baraka Bouts raises money for the Holy Cross Missions in Uganda.

Zlaket, who played soccer in high school, was hoping to find a similar environment when she came to Notre Dame. Not only did she want to stay in shape, she said, but she wanted to find a community of empowering women.

“It’s just like a soccer team, only on a bigger scale,” she said. “It’s almost more powerful in the sense that it’s not 12 girls and two captains, but 200 girls and 10 captains. It’s really empowering because it’s cool to be tough, and it’s cool to be strong, which isn’t really normal for us as girls. So going to a place where that’s cool and lifted up, to be able to be powerful and be proud of yourself, that’s really empowering.”

Even though Zlaket joined the team her sophomore year and was abroad for the season during her junior year, she always wanted to be a leader in the program.

“I came in wanting to be a leader first and a boxer second,” she said. “Watching girls come in not even knowing how to position their body to stand in their stance, and then watching them on Tuesday get in the ring for the first time and being in their corner … watching someone grow that much over 10 weeks and knowing that I had even a slight impact is the best.”

The fact that the girls spend much of their practice time sparring each other in no way lessens the overwhelming sense of community on the team.

“Within the community, all of us know — and the captains really make sure to emphasize — that we’re here to help each other, and win or lose, be proud of yourself for getting in the ring in the first place,” Zlaket said.

This year, 99 girls entered the tournament, while about 200 more are part of the team but choose not to box. Senior Emily DeRubertis, who is also a captain, has been on the team since her freshman year and is looking forward to getting in the ring one last time for her final tournament.

“It’s definitely a very unique experience,” she said. “Even in practice, we’ll spar and we’ll do ring work down in the pit in our gym, but it’s quiet and it’s contained and there are coaches watching. But when you get in the ring up in Dahnke, all your friends are cheering you on. You have so much support from all those people, from all the other boxers. It’s just a very unique feeling. It’s very hard to describe.”

DeRubertis doesn’t only know what it’s like to be in the pit, however. As a captain this year, she’s become heavily involved in every aspect of the multi-faceted club.

“We [the captains] are at almost all the practices every week, working with girls who want extra practice before or after our practices,” she said. “It’s also really cool to see what’s going on behind the scenes. We’ll meet with people and handle all the actual fundraising stuff and handle all the tournament details. It’s definitely not just the boxing anymore. There’s a lot more that goes into it.”

Baraka Bouts’ greater mission is to support the Holy Cross Missions in Uganda, particularly Holy Cross Lake View Secondary School in Jinja, Uganda, and Saint Joseph’s Hill Secondary School in Kyarusozi, Uganda. This year, its goal is to send $75,000 to Saint Joseph’s to build a cafeteria.

Junior Marisa Perino is another captain who actually spent her summer doing an ISSLP at Saint Joseph’s. She believes in building a stronger connection between the club at Notre Dame and the schools they support in Uganda.

“Our girls didn’t really know where our money was going,” she said. “[Saint Joseph’s] had no idea that we send money there, which is why, when I went there, I realized we need to make this connection, because I think it would empower the students more to know that there are women who are strong and who are fighting for them.”

Over the summer, Perino taught high schoolers English and literature, in addition to teaching them how to box, which fittingly became the strongest way she and her students bonded.

“I think once I started boxing with them, it all went uphill from there,” she said. “It was interesting how boxing was such a gateway into learning about them and connecting with them.”

Perino has worked with the SSLP organization to ensure the connection she began this past summer doesn’t end with her.

“While I was applying for it and trying to get it and go myself, I was working to reserve one of the spots on it for just boxers,” she said. “And that actually takes effect this year. So now each year we’ll have one boxer going to one of our schools.”

For Perino, the work Baraka Bouts does for Holy Cross is less about charity and more about community, which is why she’s worked so hard to strengthen that connection.

“I think it’s so often misconstrued that we’re just helping the children in Africa, or even that we’re helping people who are so needy,” she said. “I think it’s hard to say they’re needy. We are helping them because we are part of the Holy Cross family. We are helping them because we see them as women, and we want to empower them as we’ve been empowered as boxers. I think it’s more of those two connections rather than we need to help them because they’re in desperate need of help.”

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